Internal and external pressures plaguing the LGBTQ+ community
June 5, 2022
Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer.
These are just a handful of labels used to describe the gender and sexuality spectrum. For many, labels can help enhance or articulate one’s experience and journey with their queer identity.
“Labels don’t define who you are; they’re just used as a way to more easily communicate how you identify,” said Amber Enthoven, a transgender woman who graduated from Carlmont last year.
Despite the helpful nature of labels, others have struggled with the pressure that comes with finding and choosing one.
“I think that labels can be really helpful, but they can also be very limiting. I’ve had a lot of people in my life who’ve come out as one label, changed their minds, and then changed their minds again. That’s completely valid, but that constant changing happened because they felt pressured to put a label on their queerness,” said María Valle-Remond, a genderqueer senior.
Valle-Remond has also felt this same pressure.
“Labels made me feel like I wasn’t valid because I kept changing my mind, but it’s not actually changing your mind — it’s discovering more about yourself. Sexuality and gender are fluid, but when you feel pressured to put a label on it, it feels like you have to stick to that label no matter what. Feeling anything outside of whatever label I had at the time made me feel fake or not valid,” Valle-Remond said.
This pressure can also be, in part, attributed to mainstream media’s limited representation of the LGBTQ+ community and rainbow capitalism.
“Companies have taken over pride month and made it very palatable to straight audiences,” Valle-Remond said.
This extends past companies’ direct actions like selling rainbow-colored merchandise or changing the colors of their logo and has spread to other aspects of pride month, such as pride parades. Recently, there have been growing concerns over what is considered appropriate at pride.
“There’s this whole debate on whether or not kinks should be allowed at pride. While I understand all the concerns about how that appears to children, this type of sexual activity is so integral to queer history. Removing it for the sake of protecting children not only perpetuates the stereotype that queer people are predators and queerness is inappropriate for children but also suppresses a huge part of the queer community simply because it’s not acceptable to mainstream society,” Valle-Remond said.
This debate and the questioning of the appropriateness of the LGBTQ+ community is not new; other venues and platforms, especially mainstream media, have and continue to face this same issue, exacerbating the lack of queer representation in society today.
“The reason why we don’t have a lot of queer representation, specifically in film, is because of the Hays Code, which basically said that that you couldn’t show anything ‘unsavory’ in film, which included gay people. You couldn’t be explicit about being queer, so queer coding was birthed as a way to get around that,” said Lillith Farrell, a transgender sophomore.
However, despite this workaround, queer coding can have detrimental effects.
“A lot of companies have the tendency to queer code villains. If the only representation that you’re getting in mainstream media is that gay people are evil, I would say that’s arguably worse than no representation at all. However, because the queer community is starved for representation, there are companies that will try to skirt the line between including representation and keeping their profits,” Farrell said.
Even when characters in mainstream media are explicitly depicted as members of the LGBTQ+ community, they are often trapped in a one-dimensional portrayal of their identity. For genderqueer characters, this often manifests itself in the false pretense that gender expression is limited and genderqueer people must conform to a specific image, most frequently ones characterized by complete androgyny or the ability to present as cisgender, also known as passing. This limited representation of genderqueer individuals in mainstream media has bled into today’s genderqueer community and is often a reflection of the treatment or pressure they face.
“Even though there are times where I’ll occasionally identify under the umbrella term transgender, I recognize that I will never experience the hate and danger that openly transgender people do because at the end of the day, while I may feel like something, I may pass as something else. I think that there’s this huge issue of passing privilege,” Valle-Remond said.
However, privilege within the queer community extends past presenting as a certain identity. Race can also play a critical role in the severity of discrimination that a queer person may face.
“White genderqueer people will never experience the hate or violence that comes with being a genderqueer person of color. They might face some sort of discrimination, but it will never necessarily be the same level of oppression that is systemically present in the lives of queer people of color,” Valle-Remond said.
According to a study that analyzed queer Canadian women of color’s perceptions of how white privilege shapes the LGBTQ+ community, the researchers found that oftentimes, queer women of color reported feeling invisible or were discriminated against on a more frequent basis than their white counterparts. Additionally, most mainstream media representations of the queer community focused solely on white people, further alienating queer people of color.
“Queer liberation and the liberation of people of color intersect; you can’t have one without the other. That’s why it’s so important for queer white people to recognize that they are white before they are queer. You can’t replace your whiteness with your queerness,” Valle-Remond said.